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Recording

Tallis · Byrd · Gibbons

Friederike Chylek harpsichord & organ
78:14
Oehms Classics OC 1727

The succinct title of this recording is a rollcall which names three of the finest English composers for keyboards. Byrd and Gibbons without question, but Tallis? Yes, because his two huge settings of Felix namque are the final pieces in the development of keyboard music in England before the tipping point which led to the sequence of fantasias composed by Byrd: the sacred narrative of the plainsong replaced by the secular narrative of the composer’s own imagination and creativity. Friederike Chylek (FC) bookends her programme with these two pieces, performing both on the organ – primarily a harpsichordist, she is unnecessarily modest about her capabilities on the other instrument. Apart from one rather jarring change of registration in Felix namque #1 her interpretations of both pieces are models of clarity, played on a Swiss instrument of 1715. Many recordings of these two pieces give the impression of imposing some sort of point or “agenda” on them, emphasizing their length, their difficulty and/or their intricacy, whereas FC is content to express Tallis’s own creativity and allow his musical narrative to develop without intrusive gestures.

In three previous recordings – go to Early Music Review website, click on “Search” and type “Chylek” – from 2015 onwards, FC has emerged as a major exponent of the keyboard music of Byrd. Having recorded an entire disc of his music in 2020, she devotes nearly half of the current release to him in this, his quatercentenary. Like Tallis’s pieces, Ut re mi fa sol la is entrusted to the organ, a sound decision since this outstanding work benefits from the organ’s ability to sustain notes, whether maintaining the cantus firmus or affirming a dash of piquancy in some cadences. There are fine performances on the 1699 Neapolitan harpsichord of masterpieces such as the Third Pavan and Galliard, Walsingham and Fortune. Finest of all, and indeed the finest of any commercially recorded version of the work, is O mistress mine – one of Byrd’s gems that should be heard much more often, given here in a performance of perfection encapsulated in the balance and delicacy of the concluding cadence.

Like Byrd, Gibbons is allocated seven pieces. Most of these are lighter works like the modest Whoop do me no harm good man, the significant exception being the Fantasia in C (MB20/14) which illustrates how much Gibbons learnt from Byrd whether the older composer was his teacher, mentor or influence. That said, Gibbons’s compositional voice is clearly audible, especially in his exploitation of the harpsichord’s lower register.

This is an altogether delightful recording, with an outstanding exponent of early English keyboard music performing a well-chosen selection of works by three composers whose individual pieces always provide edification and pleasure.

Richard Turbet

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Recording

Telemann: Trio sonatas & quartets

Campagnia Transalpina, Andreas Böhlen
71:05
aeolus AE-10366

Telemann’s cultivation of the trio form was truly prodigious, and we have ample proof of this with some 150 extant examples, as well as about 50 quadros. The timeline for these works spans from the early Eisenach period right up to the 1740s. There is already a rich scattering of recordings of many, with just the double violin trios seeming under-explored. The recorder and oboe trios are amongst the most often tackled, and in my own listings, I find two real gems: Tel-Strad: Teldec (a double CD) and the superb Stradivarius (STR 33595) with Tripla Concordia (Alfredo Bernardini et al). Some of these trios featured on this current CD were recorded as long ago as the 1980s, and even the quartets here have had numerous recordings, and feel like fine euphonic friends.

The writing for recorder and oboe is most satisfying, and the dialogues between these instruments are both languid and sensual, fluid and dynamic; Campagnia Transalpina has captured this aspect very well indeed, their voices balanced, and with unforced expressivity. The recorded sound quality is crisp, full and measured. This feels like a well-polished concert, with perhaps a touch of understatement in the finales. The oddest thing to my ears was the opening Largo from TWV42:F15, where a pile-up of ornaments from both the main instrumental protagonists dismantled the normally sensual flow of this beautiful slow movement. This aside, this recording demonstrates Telemann’s admirable prowess in writing fine chamber music.

The playing cards on the cover of the booklet may have shocked the composer, recalling the substantial gambling debts and infidelity of his second wife! Fortunately, the music offers some elegant conversations from a great musical esprit, the familiar G-major work displaying this in spades.

David Bellinger

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Recording

Muffat: Missa in labore requies

Le Banquet Céleste, La Guilde des Mercenaires conducted by Damien Guillon
58:53
Versailles Spectacles CVS106

It would be hard to find a better example of the current strength of early music in France than this splendid collaboration between two ensembles based not in a major population centre but in the provinces. One, the vocal ensemble Le Banquet Céleste, is likely to be familiar to anyone who follows the early music scene, but La Guilde de Mercenaires, fundamentally a wind and brass ensemble and like Le Banquet based in Brittany may be a less well-known name. In a note Damien Guillon tells of how their mutual ambition to perform and record Georg Muffat’s monumental 24-part Missa in labore requies (‘rest in our toil’), words taken from the medieval sequence, Veni Sancte spiritus) came to be realised in the superb acoustic of the Chapelle Royale at Versailles.

Muffat’s Mass is one of a number of such works composed for Salzburg Cathedral as part of the Counter-Reformation assault on the senses, the creation of brilliantly theatrical liturgy. Salzburg Cathedral, with its separate galleries, offered an ideal venue (there is a strong temptation to say stage) in which to exploit the polychoral tradition that had developed in Venice in the 16th century. Such works required the disposition of both vocal and instrumental choirs distributed in the various galleries. The most famous of such works is, of course, the so-called Missa Salisburgensis, once attributed to the Italian composer Orazio Benevoli (1605-1672), but now firmly established as the work of Biber.

The Muffat has a strange history, having come down to us in an autograph score in Joseph Haydn’s estate. Even more oddly given its celebratory character no specific occasion is known to have inspired its composition, though Peter Wollny’s note is in little doubt that it was composed for Salzburg. However, the note by Ernst Hintermeier for the earlier harmonia mundi recording directed by Konrad Junghänel, postulates that it may have been composed for the induction of a new archbishop at the court at Passau in 1690, the year Muffat left Salzburg to become Kapellmeister there. The disposition of the Mass calls for two SATB vocal choirs, here with two voices each, plus three instrumental choirs, one of strings and the other two for wind and brass. A small continuo group completes the forces, which throughout are deployed in a dazzling array of combinations ranging from sumptuous passages for the full ensemble to passages of chamber-like finesse and interiority. As so often in large-scale works it is unexpectedly these moments of intimacy that tend to remain longer in the memory than the more overtly spectacular passages, impressive though those are. But the work as a whole seems to me richer in imagination and invention than the works of Biber of this kind with which I’m familiar. There are so many examples that it is difficult to single out individual moments. ’Laudamus te’ from the Gloria may however be one such, an exuberantly florid display of solo voices led by the soprano of Choir I over running bass, the whole creating a kind of perpetuum mobile. Shortly after that the dense fugal tapestry of ‘Qui tollis’ creates a passage of wonderful penitential breadth. Often the passages one expects to be highlighted are especially memorable. The crucial central part of the Credo, for example, is a sublime setting of ‘Et incarnatus est’ for two sopranos, while the ‘Crucifixus’ is a polyphonic solo SATB quartet accompanied by only organ continuo. Here the muffled drumbeats at the mention of Jesus’s death remind us of the essential theatricality of the music. The opening of the Agnus Dei inspires another exquisitely contemplative soprano solo before building to an impressive climax at ‘Dona nobis’. The Credo and Sanctus are punctuated by a Dixit Dominus from Biber’s Vesperae Longiores ac Breviores , the brevity and comparative simplicity the answer to the command for such discipline from freshly installed Salzburg Archbishop Ernst von Thun. Mozart it seems was not the only one to be hampered by such edicts in Salzburg!

The performance of the Muffat is on the highest level throughout both as to the vocal and instrumental contributions. I’ve mentioned the soprano soloists several times during the course of this review and Violaine Le Chenadec (choir I) and Myriam Arbouz (choir II) certainly deserve special mention, but it is to the credit of Damien Guillon that the whole performance deserves the highest possible praise. The same goes for the engineers who have gloriously wrapped the performance in the distinctive acoustic of the Chapelle Royale. It’s a performance I would tend to prefer to the fine but more objective Junghänel.

Brian Robins

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Recording

Coelho: Flores de Musica

pera o instrumento de tecla & harpa (1620) vol 1
Sérgio Silva
63:05
Inventa INV 1009

The first volume of this projected complete recording of Manuel Rodrigues Coelho’s Flores de Musica of 1620 doesn’t get into the music for harp but concentrates on the organ music, played by Sérgio Silva on the main organ and organ positive of the Pascoal Caetano Oldovino, both instruments from the mid-18th century, a little late for this 17th-century repertoire, but which produce powerful performances on a wonderful range of vivid and occasionally gritty registrations. This large volume is Coelho’s only known work. He spent his whole life in his native Portugal, rising to the position of organist of the Chapel Royal in Lisbon. He has a confident declamatory style, and Silva’s flamboyant performances bring this out to an admirable degree. A couple of vocalists provide incipits and cantus firmi for several works – as they are often heard singing along with the organ, it is a little puzzling why the incipits are recorded in a much quieter context than the ensuing organ music, necessitating a sudden background ‘rush’ before the organ comes in. The various aspirations of the bellows and clickings of the keywork are a necessary and not unpleasing accompaniment, but surely we would have been less aware of them if they hadn’t kept disappearing in the incipit recordings? Anyway, this is a small reservation about a magisterial account of some very unfamiliar Portuguese organ music, and we look forward very much to seeing in later volumes how this distinctly individual composer deploys the harp in his compositions.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Carlo Filago: Sacri concerti a voce solo

Ariana Lanci, Ensemble Les Nations
74:06
Tactus TC 580610

Born in Rovigo, Carlo Filago came to prominence in the early 17th century, primarily as an organ virtuoso in Treviso and later in Venice, where he was appointed first organist at San Marco in preference to Claudio Monteverdi. As one might expect from an organ player admired for his florid style, Filago’s sacred concerti for solo voices are ornate to a degree more normally associated with the secular music of this period. In this recording of 14 of the 16 concerti – including one of two such pieces for contralto and the only one for tenor with the rest for soprano – we are very much in the hands of the vocalists. Ariana Lanci, who sings all but two of the concerti, has a full operatic voice, and the deft ornamentation of Filago’s vocal writing sounds heavily laboured, while she is also inclined to swoop and undercut. The alto Marcella Ventura shares many of these characteristics, while the tenor Giovanni Cantorini also struggles with intonation in his upper range. A capable accompanying selection of instruments tended to fade into the background, and really none of the music here sounds comfortable. This is a pity, as I found myself largely unable to judge the quality of Filago’s writing, which I suspect is much better than this recording suggests. Nowadays it is surprising to hear a recording with these shortcomings, coming from the context of an Italian early music scene which is generally producing performers of a very high calibre. I think Filago probably deserves better.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Lovesick

Randall Scotting countertenor, Stephen Stubbs lute
57:29
Signum Classics SIGCD736

The musicians have ranged far and wide for the repertoire for this collection of music on the general subject of lovesickness. There is the anticipated music of Purcell, Lawes, Dowland and Blow, though by no means the most obvious repertoire by these masters, and interleaved with this we have traditional ballads from the Scottish, Irish and English traditions as well as songs by Marc Antonio Cesti, Danielle da Castrovillari and Pierre Guédron. Scotting has a flexible and rich countertenor voice, deft in ornamentation with a not unpleasant regular vibrato, which he applies intelligently and expressively to his chosen repertoire. Stephen Stubbs provides sympathetic accompaniments on lute and Baroque guitar, although his instrumental set from King Arthur as well as his brief account of Packinton’s Pound, both thematically a little at odds with the lovesick contents of the rest of the CD, are slightly puzzling choices. I found the accounts of the ballad material the least satisfying of the repertoire – it really belongs to another world from the earlier material and to my ear didn’t entirely suit Scotting’s refined vocal production. However, this CD is obviously a very personal project, and these two fine musicians’ enthusiasm for this wide-ranging repertoire communicates itself very well.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Vivaldi: Serenata a tre (RV 690)

Vivaldi Edition Vol. 70
Marie Lys Eurilla, Sophie Ennert Nice, Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani Acindo, Abchordis Ensemble, Andrea Buccarella
72:03
naïve OP 7257

The Serenata RV690 is a two-part dramatic cantata for three soloists and orchestra set in an arcadian world of shepherds and shepherdesses and revolving around the romantic intrigues of the three central characters. Written as light entertainment for a special occasion, in this case an aristocratic wedding, Serenatas generally entertained through melodic felicity and colourful orchestration rather than intellectual demands, and the present work is particularly engaging in its musical originality. Three excellent and expressive soloists are sympathetically supported by a period string ensemble, enhanced by horns, oboes, and bassoon as required for local colour. There is evidence in the manuscript that Vivaldi originally intended to include recorders too, and it is interesting that he reworked the score several times, suggesting that he valued this composition and took time to perfect its details. This detailed and musically sensitive account is volume 70 in a superb projected complete recording of Vivaldi’s music, which has already unearthed several unsuspected masterpieces, and through the engagement of excellent Italian vocalists brought much overlooked material vividly to life. Thus too this apparently inconsequential occasional piece is revealed as much more important and substantial than it first appears, and a worthy companion piece to Vivaldi’s operatic writing.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Louis Couperin: Complete Harpsichord Music

Massimo Berghella harpsichord
329:00 (5 CDs in a cardboard box)
Brilliant Classics 96238

There is a disparate cabal of musical individuals united in the belief that Louis Couperin is a greater composer for the keyboard than his more famous nephew Francois, and/or that Louis is the greatest of the French keyboard composers of the Baroque era, and/or that Louis is the greatest of all composers for the harpsichord. Given this degree of acclamation, it is appropriate that there should now be no fewer than three commercial recordings of his complete music for that instrument (numbering over 130 pieces in the 2022 Lyrebird edition by Jon Baxendale) of which the one under review is the most recent. It is also the best.

Even among those unfamiliar with the sheer extent of his oeuvre Louis Couperin is famed for his unmeasured preludes, and this recording goes off to the best possible start with the astoundingly beautiful example in G minor, number 3 in the collected edition by Davitt Moroney (whose numbering will be used in this review). This work also proclaims Massimo Berghella’s manner of performance, in which, like Pieter-Jan Belder in his recent complete recording of Byrd’s music for keyboard, he restrains himself from imposing overly elaborate interpretations on these already eloquent works, while still showing a cogent awareness of the appropriate playing style. Disc 2 begins with an equally memorable prelude, number 2, in D. Other keyboard genres in Louis Couperin’s output include chaconnes and their close relations the passacailles, with sarabandes, allemandes, courantes, a few gigues and gavottes, plus the legendary and very great pavane in F sharp minor. Two of the passacailles are quite the equals of the two preludes which I have cited: number 98 on disc 1, and number 27 concluding disc 3, both of which flaunt examples of Louis’s rare and discerning employment of the false relation; any English Tudor composer would have been immensely proud of either.

While every piece in this collection has been created fastidiously, they each exude a sense of inspiration which mere compositional technique has to accommodate, rather than technique circumscribing the inspiration. There is a wonderful inevitability about the stately progress of the sarabandes numbered 48, 49 (exquisite conclusions), 50, 51, 87, 109, 110 and particularly 65, in which Berghella unpicks some notably subtle rhythms towards the end. Along with the preludes already mentioned, number 7 shows a fine sense of momentum without excessive reliance on elaboration exhibited in other recordings. Also worth pointing out is the allemande number 58, sprightly but with an irresistible inner logic. And no discussion of music by Louis Couperin is complete without an admiring reference to his powerful yet poignant Tombeau de Mr Blancrocher, the admired lutenist so unfortunate to fall to his death, yet his memory so fortunate to be celebrated by two of the finest works ever composed for the keyboard, the tombeaux by Froberger and this one by Louis Couperin. Both pieces piteously depict his actual falling, and Louis Couperin includes a tolling motif which is wonderfully affecting in its sonorous and sombre dignity.

Massimo Berghella plays throughout with clarity and insight. It is as though he acknowledges that we were not there at the time, and he relies on Louis Couperin’s notation and the surviving evidence of his contemporaries plus the best of modern research for his interpretations, without resorting in them to exaggeration or swagger. It is of course possible to listen to “a little but often” from this recording, but such is the variety and quality of Louis’s oeuvre and such is the judiciousness and sheer excellence of Massimo Berghella’s playing that listening to an entire disc is both pleasurable enrichment and spiritual illumination.

Richard Turbet

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Recording

Miércoles de Tinieblas

Ensemble Semura Sonora directed by Clara Espinosa Encinas & Lucien Julien-Laferrière
50:40
Seuletoile SE 07

This CD presents a set of Lamentations and a Miserere associated with Zamora Cathedral in Castilla y León in Spain by two composers new to me, Juan Garcia Salazar and his student, Alonso Tomé Cobaleda. The music demonstrates the quirky charm of late-17th- and early-18th-century Spanish composition and is performed with passion and musicality by the voices and instruments of the Ensemble Semura Sonora. There are impressive solo performances from alto Gabriel Diaz Cuesta as well as some engaging ensemble singing, ably supported by the instrumental ensemble. From the outset, I felt that a more resonant acoustic might have served this cathedral music better, and this became more apparent in the more lavishly scored numbers. Having said that, the occasionally pinched sound didn’t interfere too much with my enjoyment of this unusual repertoire, and the Ensemble Semura Sonora played and sang idiomatically and expressively. Particularly striking was the very pure and penetrating soprano singing, interacting wonderfully with the cornetto. The lack of an English translation and my limited French put much of the programme note out of my reach, but the internet served well to introduce these two very capable composers to me.

D. James Ross

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Recording

Sigismondo D’India: Lamenti & Sospiri

Mariana Flores, Julie Roset, Cappella Mediterranea, Leonardo Garcia Alarcón
91:08 (2 CDs)
Ricercar RIC 429

Sigismondo D’India is a composer who has been somewhat overshadowed by his fellow Italian and near-contemporary Claudio Monteverdi. Both were strong advocates of the seconda prattica which prized the expression of passion above any formal considerations, and this two-CD collection of arias, laments and duets underlines the importance of D’India in this vital stage in the development of music. The two sopranos Mariana Flores and Julie Roset split the solos between them and combine for the duets – both have lovely pure and expressive voices, perfect for this repertoire, and they blend beautifully when singing together. The vocal ornamentation is not overdone and executed with deft precision. They are ably and sympathetically supported by a consort of bass viol, harp, theorbo/guitar and archlute led from the harpsichord/organ by Leonardo Garcia Alarcón. The interaction of voices and instruments is a masterclass in empathy, and the resulting performances are consistently persuasive and utterly enjoyable. In addition to their considerable musical merits, these performers manage to inject an element of languid Mediterranean sunshine into their music-making which shines through in these CDs. Too often D’India features as a filler on recordings of the music of other composers such as Monteverdi, but these CDs more than make the case for his own considerable merits as an important composer in his own right. The two extended laments, the Lamentatione d’Olympia and Infelice Didone, are considerable masterpieces worthy of wider acquaintance.

D. James Ross